SAT changes may translate into better opportunities for all students
The College Board’s overhaul of the SAT hopes to encourage high-achieving students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to apply to selective universities.
The value of an American education was a dream borne by our forefathers, but continues to resonate within the hearts of the current generation. Students of all races and nationalities aspire to attend a university of their choice in order to obtain a higher education. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) can be a key that unlocks the doors to those aspirations, but the test can also generate great anxiety and skepticism among students and parents.
The new SAT aims to prepare students for their college years and beyond by focusing on evidence-based reading and writing.
The SAT, presently administered by the College Board, originally started in 1926 as a method of assessing “inborn intelligence” but has morphed into an assessment of academic readiness for college. Today, many students, parents, and professors ask whether the SAT truly predicts a student’s success in college. Prior to 2005, the SAT only tested two areas—reading and math—with a highest possible score of 1600. The College Board subsequently changed the SAT’s testing pattern by adding a mandatory essay portion to the reading and math sections, increasing the maximum score to 2400. The test is expected to undergo yet another overhaul in 2016.
Starting in spring 2016, the SAT will include an optional writing portion, reverting back to the 1600-maximum scoring standard. Yet, as one would suspect, the overhaul entails more than just changing the maximum obtainable score. One of the goals of the new test is to offer “worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles.” The SAT will no longer be a test providing a competitive advantage to those who memorize the dictionary or master the process of elimination. Instead, the new SAT aims to prepare students for their college years and careers by focusing on evidence-based reading and writing. The idea behind evidence-based examination is to instill the importance of supporting an answer with reasoning, testing the deductive skills of students as opposed to their ability to memorize or eliminate incorrect answer choices.
According to Coleman, the responsibility of the College Board is not only to administer the test, but also to play a role in “ameliorating the inequalities in education opportunities.”
One of the main reasons for the overhaul involves the industrious efforts of David Coleman, President of the College Board since 2012. Coleman noticed the credibility of the SAT called into question when colleges stopped requiring the test for admission purposes. A University of California study (pdf) labeled the SAT a “relatively poor predictor of student performance,” and another revealed there was no difference in the grade point average (GPA) between students who took the SAT and students who did not. The study additionally noted that even those students who had low SAT scores but maintained a high GPA throughout high school fared much better in college than those students with high SAT scores and weak high school grades.
Apart from the disparity between SAT scores and college success, the exam has often been criticized as biased against racial minorities. The announcement of the SAT overhaul has generated a great deal of discussion on the correlation between scores and race. For example, in New York City, many test prep classes are filled with affluent Caucasian students as opposed to African-American and Latino students.
Coleman also observed the additional effects of socioeconomic status on SAT results. Students from affluent or middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds could afford preparatory classes costing thousands of dollars, whereas students from low socioeconomic backgrounds were “shut out completely.” Additional data also revealed a correlation between income and scores, translating into the ability of some to hire private test prep tutors.
In an effort to counterbalance the advantage affluent students may have had in preparing for the SAT, Coleman has paired with Sal Khan, President of the Khan Academy, to provide free test-preparation for the new exam. According to Coleman, the responsibility of the College Board is not only to administer the test, but also to play a role in “ameliorating the inequalities in education opportunities.”
Research attributed the cause to a lack of access to information about colleges and costs.
A recent study conducted by Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner, economic professors at Stanford University and the University of Virginia, respectively, revealed the tendencies of high-achieving, low-income students to not apply to selective universities. The research attributed the cause to a lack of access to information about colleges and costs. The researchers surmised that the high schools these students attended may not have attracted selective college recruiters, and that guidance counselors may have been preoccupied with more pressing needs—failing to possess the expertise to guide students in selecting the colleges of their choice. Furthermore, researchers concluded that parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds may not be equipped to “fill the deficit in information about college quality.”
An additional study conducted by Hoxby and Christopher Avery, a public policy professor at Harvard’s School of Government, also revealed a tendency for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to select a college that was less rigorous and closer to their home, despite evidence that they could succeed elsewhere. Expounding on these studies, Coleman decided to utilize the SAT as a conduit to identify such high-achieving, low-income students and encourage them to apply to universities.
Coleman’s goal to reach students is fast underway, transforming an exam of anxiety and burden into an exam of opportunity.
In an attempt to recruit low-income students to selective universities, the College Board recently mailed nearly 100,000 packets, including application waivers, to allow top-performing and college-ready students to apply to any of 2,000 universities participating in the program. The program-eligible students were defined as those who scored greater than 1550 out of 2400 on the SAT. The participating universities agreed to the financial determinations made by the College Board and did not require any student to re-qualify for financial assistance. According to Coleman, the “waiver was designed to look like a ticket . . . simplifying the process and encouraging the students to jump at the opportunity.” Results of the study are expected within the next month.
Coleman’s goal to reach students “who would not otherwise apply to colleges that appeared to be out of their reach” is fast underway, transforming an exam of anxiety and burden into an exam of opportunity. Despite his efforts, it may be an opportunity that many low-income students allow to pass by. Only time will tell whether the overhaul will truly balance the socioeconomic disparities between students and encourage them to pursue higher education.